The Hunger Games and the Gift of Hope

Hunger Games and the Gift of Hope

Last weekend, I watched The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Having never read the books (please hold your contempt :)), I had no idea what to expect as much as I didn’t know what to expect from the first movie. I must say I was thoroughly entertained even with my hands going up in my face half of the time to block the view of all the impending violence (I’m a scaredy-cat, what can I say?). But I was surprised at the thing that struck me most about the movie, and that I really didn’t expect to see in the development of this story; that is the overarching theme that fear only works so long as people lack the gift of hope. It’s such a simple, yet powerful message. Dontcha think?

I won’t attempt to summarize the movie, because I am sure most of you are familiar with the story or might be planning to go see the movie, read the books, or both. But just for some context, essentially the main character, Katniss Everdeen, through her strong and rebellious spirit, manages to give the gift of hope to a society that has been bogged down by the government-led fear tactics they have endured their entire lives. When the leader of this society, President Snow, starts to realize that Katniss has become a symbol of hope for his people, he begins to worry that his fear tactics will become increasingly unsuccessful, because fear only works when there is no hope. In other words, the gift hope is stronger than the threat of fear.

Those words really struck a chord in me, and I’ve been thinking about them ever since. Today, on Thanksgiving, I have to say that the thing I am definitely most thankful for in 2013 is the realization that the gift of hope in my heart really is and always will be stronger than any threat of fear in my mind. I have fought some demons this year, particularly in the shape of toxic people, but through the gift of hope, I was able to let go, and come out of it all stronger, more determined and more confident.

This year, I realized that I have enough belief in myself that I rather wait for the right things, than to accept the mediocre things that deplete instead of nourish my soul. I realized that no matter what is happening around me, I always have hope that tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year holds something spectacular for me and usually, little by little, it does. I realized that flowers always blossom out of just buds, that strength can be derived from pain, and that fear will never win, so long as I have the gift of hope with me.

So my point is, if you are not feeling too hopeful, I suggest you dig deep, because that little hope sucka is quite helpful, even when you’re dealing with the likes of President Snow! And when you find it, hold on to it, because it will save you and give you so much.

So, what are you most thankful for this year? Even if you don’t wish to share it, it’s definitely a worthwhile reflection. Just stop, take a deep breath and find a moment to be truly grateful for whatever that might be.

Happy Thanksgiving ya’ll!

Love,

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

Kindness Counts: 9 Tips for a Kinder Existence

Kindness Counts

Every day, I pay attention. In fact, I probably pay more attention to every minute detail of my surroundings and social interactions than my brain and heart can really handle sometimes.  One thing that I catch myself paying extra, special, focused attention to is people’s attitudes. I notice when people are kind, even if just in tiny, little, minuscule ways, and it always, always, without fail, gives me a little boost, a little pep in my step, and a great big smile.

Then there are the times when I pick up on a more negative energy; attitudes that feel more like quick, sharp bee stings.  Sometimes it’s really subtle – a slightly irritated or condescending tone of voice, a less than pleasant look, or an off-putting gesture. I imagine people often don’t even realize they are being a little on the jerky side, or how their energy might affect others around them. But me? I notice. That’s just Sonia. I’m sensitive to people’s energy, and I pick up on that stuff. I think a lot of us do.

Enter the topic of kindness which I haven’t visited in a bit. I believe with everything I have that there is always a positive way to have a conversation, even when it involves a tough or controversial topic. I believe there is always a small gesture you can make to help someone feel more comfortable, always a positive way to tackle a situation, always a small way to be kind, and rarely a thoroughly good reason to be a dick. Yes, I said it.

In that vein, here are nine small, but meaningful ways to live a kinder existence.

Kindness Counts Tip #1: SMILE!

Whether it’s at a homeless person on the corner, your neighbor, the cashier at your grocery store, a fussy child, your co-worker, just SMILE! It’s free, it’s easy, and trust me, it makes a sizable difference. Most of us just want to be acknowledged, and there is no better way to acknowledge someone and their humanity, than through a great, big CHEESE.

Kindness Counts Tip #2: Show appreciation.

Take time to thank those who contribute to your life (made you laugh, did you a favor, offered advice), whether that’s  a mentor, a friend, a nurse, the bar tender at your favorite spot, an old professor, a family member, anyone. Maybe it’s just an actual “thank you” and a smile, maybe it’s a thank-you note, or a small treat. It might take you five minutes of energy, but it will give someone else a whole day’s worth of warmth.

Kindness Counts Tip #3: Respect others.

We are all different – complete with our quirks, our bad days, and our likes and dislikes. But we all contribute in our own very special way, and I believe we should respect what everyone has to offer. Never make people feel they are less than you. Never talk down to people. Never ignore them. Try to find a happy medium between what you bring to the table and what they bring, knowing neither is better than the other, just different, and equally as valuable.

Kindness Counts Tip #4: Listen.

People want to be heard. Hell, people NEED to be heard. Even if you don’t agree, just listen. Give people a turn, and then talk. Give others the opportunity to let go of what weighs on their hearts and minds. Then when they have what they need, they’ll turn and listen to you. Don’t shun people out because what they are saying is not what you want to hear. Just listen.

Kindness Counts Tip #5: Apologize.

Hey, screw up much? Of course you do. We all do, and that’s A OK! Practice self-awareness. Realize when you’ve made a bad choice, offended someone, hurt some feelings, and apologize. People are pretty easy, folks. They just want to have their feelings validated. They don’t actually want to hold on to grudges. They just want to hear you’re sorry. Screw up, own up to it, apologize, and move on. Screw up, hold on to that pride like a kid to a chocolate bar, make the situation worse, and dwell. Easy choice, I’d say.

Kindness Counts Tip #6: Be honest.

Clearly, there is a place and a time for brutal honesty, and you can’t always go around telling everyone exactly how you feel. Plus, being honest doesn’t equate to being a jerk. Instead, just be as honest as you can as often as possible. Especially in situations where people are reaching out to you, asking you straight out how you feel, give them the answer they deserve, the honest one. Don’t beat around that old tired bush, just come out with it. Don’t lead folks on, or tell them what you think they want to hear. That ends up hurting a lot more in the long run, every time. And hey, some people might not like what you have to say, but in the end, they will always find a way to respect it.

Kindness Counts Tip #7: Build spirits up. Don’t tear them down.

Give compliments where compliments are due. Encourage people. Support them. Help them wherever and however you can. Again, SMILE! Don’t interrogate. Don’t search for flaws. Search for good qualities. See the good in people. Forgive. Give chances. Stay positive. Don’t hurl insults at every turn, even when they are hurled violently at you.

Kindness Counts Tip #8: Don’t let ‘em harden you.

OK. So you’re throwing out all the kindness you can muster, and you are still getting nasty attitudes, rude comments, and harsh dismissals. So what? If we give into that, we only perpetuate the ugly little cycle. Be nice even when others are not. Be the positive light in Negative Alley. Don’t let ‘em harden you. The right people will appreciate it, and the harder ones? Well, sooner or later, if you just keep pushin’ through kindness, you’ll strike a chord, and soften them right up! Negative or angry people are not bad people. They just need your kindness the most.

Kindness Counts Tip #9: Be humble.

No matter what you achieve in life, what faraway lands you might travel to, how great your possessions and accolades might be, stay humble. Always remember the path you took to get there. Remember the bad days when the good days come. Remember those who helped you along the way. Never start to think you’re better than anyone. Know that things can always change. Appreciate, love and share kindness. Don’t get cocky, and don’t you ever dare think you have nothing left to learn.

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

3 Ways I Never Gave Up

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I’ve never been a huge fan of the word NO. It just always seemed too limiting to me, and little by little, I discovered that NO is usually nothing more than an easy way out; nothing more than a test of how fast I, or anyone, will give up.

When I was younger, I remember asking my overly strict father to give me a good reason why I couldn’t go to the movies with friends. I held a job since I was 15, I was an excellent student, I was a responsible kid, and I deserved a YES. After all, I wasn’t asking to go to a rave or anything outlandish for a 16 year-old. So I’d say (in Spanish), “Give me a logical reason why I can’t go, and I will let it go. I don’t even need money to go. I make my own.” Dumbfounded, more often than not, he’d budge and say YES. Why? Because you can’t fight logic, and most of all, it’s hard to fight that kind of gumption from a teenager. It might be important to mention here that I grew up being terrified of him, so standing up for myself was an even bigger deal. I think it was the beginning of a life of fighting NO, even when I was shaking in my boots while doing it.

So how do you fight NO? It’s simple. You fight NO by never giving up, by not allowing others to define your limits for you, by showing people you really want IT (whatever that IT might be), and by demonstrating that you’re worth the YES. To illustrate my point and hopefully inspire a little NO warrior action in you, here are three ways I fought NO and never gave up (I’ll share more examples in the future). I’ve briefly discussed some of these situations here before, but I really want to take a fresh look at them through a “never give up” perspective, so here it goes.

1. When I applied for my first master’s program with the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, I was denied acceptance based on one factor. I’m a horrible standardized test taker, and I just wasn’t cutting it on the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). The rest of my academic record was impeccable, but the test weighed more, and there I had it, a big ugly NO staring me in the face.

But, no ma’am. I wouldn’t stand for it. I knew I was just as capable of completing that program as other applicants with higher test scores, and I firmly believed I deserved a spot. So, I fought, and wrote a letter to the Dean that started out something like this:

Dear Dr. Treise,

They say 90 percent of life is just showing up. This is me showing up.

Then I went on to explain that my rejection seemed unfair in light of an otherwise impeccable academic record, and the fact that I was passionate about the degree I wished to obtain. I asked her not to judge me based on one day and one test, but on a lifetime of hard work and dedication instead.

So what happened? I can’t remember the timeline exactly, but I think it might have been about a week after I sent the letter that I received a phone call from Dr. Treise herself expressing her awe at my initiative and personally welcoming me into the master’s program I had originally been rejected from. I finished that degree with a 3.77 GPA, and a successfully defended Project in Lieu of Thesis despite an abysmal GRE score. I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder in my life, but I wanted it, and I did it.

Bam. NO? I don’t think so!

2. Moving to Chicago from Miami took me about three years from ideation to fruition. It seemed like everything and everyone was against me. My family did not support it, and neither did my dire financial situation. Lots of people around me told me I was crazy, and that I should accept the life I already had. Say whaaat? That is super limiting talk, and this girl just doesn’t play that.

Despite all the negativity, I’d apply to jobs, get interviews, and get close to an offer, but at the end of the day I wasn’t local, and thus came the rejections. At some point, I started sending hard copy resumes and cover letters to employers asking them for an opportunity to speak to them, and explaining that I wasn’t looking for relocation assistance (heaven knows I needed it, but I’d figure it out when the time came). I even scrapped together some money to come visit Chicago and setup appointments with employment agencies. The answer was still I’d have to move first. Then, in one of my last desperate attempts, I applied for a 10k private loan to make the move. DENIED.

Finally, the idea came to me that I had always wanted an MBA, so why not now? That would be my ticket to Chicago. So I used my tax return to start the process, take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test), apply to several schools, etc. Here again, worst standardized test taker possibly EVER, so I bombed.

I was shattered. I’d never get into an MBA program now. I cried for a few days, and then I got right back up, and began devising my next plan. I borrowed the money to re-take the test, and this time I did a little better; good enough to gain me an acceptance from one great school, even if it was on probationary status.

So I made the move, and lived off of loans, part-time work/internships and entry-level jobs until I finished the degree and got settled into a great full-time position at the right level and for a lot more than I had ever made before. Plus, I was off academic probation within one straight A quarter, and was hugely successful throughout the entire program.

NO? I won’t make it? I’m not smart enough? Errrrr. WRONG.  I still made it ya’ll.

3. Back in 2009, life was ROUGH. Nothing seemed right. I was broke, heartbroken, lost and confused. I’d worked so hard my entire life, and it just didn’t make sense to me that I was struggling so badly just to make ends meet and keep my spirits up. It was then that I slowly started to awake to how my humble upbringing, lack of parental support, and history with emotional abuse had really affected me. There were days when something as simple as grocery shopping seemed like climbing Mount Everest. I remember oceans of tears, and a feeling of hopelessness that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

But I kept chuggin’ along. I stayed focused on my escape to Chicago. I kept working through the tears, both at my day job and freelance writing at night. I scrapped money together to visit friends in other cities and take a few breathers. I pushed through the hopelessness, and I fought, because I always knew it had to get better, and there was something bigger waiting for me.

And now, if that Sonia met this Sonia, she wouldn’t even recognize her. I have taken control of my life, my surroundings and my feelings, and I’ve been on HAPPY Street for close to three years now. Of course, I have bad days. That will always be a part of life, but now I have the tools to recover faster.  Plus, I’ve learned to seek more love from myself than from any outside source, and now I’m not so vulnerable to the things I cannot control.

Sometimes I think what if I had given up then? What if I had taken all of life’s NOs and ran with them? I would never have been able to enjoy the person I’ve become, the life I’ve built, the wonderful people I’ve met, and this frequent feeling of JOY that fills my heart where a lot of sadness used to live. And there we have it folks. The moral of the story is you should never let others define your limits. Just because someone else might not have been successful in a similar endeavor, doesn’t mean that you can’t find a better way.

Do you have a fighting NO and never giving up story you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it, and others can surely benefit from it as well. Come on, give it to me!! 🙂 And remember, success is not always about being the smartest person in the room. More often it’s about hard work, perseverance and heart.

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

Holdin’ On to Hope On Monday Morning

This morning I came into the office ready to attack the day, be productive and SHINE. I worked for a few hours last night, and felt like I actually got a pretty good handle on things, setting myself up for a successful week. But, as my buddy Forrest Gump once so eloquently said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you gonna get.”

Monday took no pity on me, and Hectic Harry came a knockin’ promptly around 9:30 a.m. As I was heading down the elevator for a meeting, that silly ol’ thing got confused and took me all the way down to the first floor, when I actually meant to just go down to the fourth. I began to feel frustrated when a familiar face suddenly hopped on the elevator (let’s call him M for short) with his always positive demeanor, bright smile and general good vibrations. The convo went a little like this.

M:          “Hi there!”

Sonia:   “Hi! How are you?”

M:          “Good, good and you?”

Sonia:   “Well you know it’s Monday. You never know what the week will bring, but I’m still hopeful.”

M:          “Yes. That’s how it always is. But you must never lose hope.”

And there my friends, is what I’m talkin’ about. That nutty elevator took me to the wrong destination because I needed to hear those simple, but resonating, words to start off my week. Motivation and friendly faces that perk up your spirit are every freakin’ where. Just open your eyes, perk up your ears, listen up, take it in, and keep it fresh in your mind throughout the day when you encounter stress. Because like M says, you must never lose hope, especially not on a Monday morning.

Sonia, Word Share Junkie